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New Jersey's Supreme Court nominee credits her success to humble roots as a first-generation Haitian American

As a youngster, Fabiana Pierre-Louis often spoke up for her three older siblings, skillfully pleading their cases like a defense lawyer when they got into trouble. Her parents jokingly predicted she would become a lawyer.

She exceeded their wildest dreams.

This month, Gov. Phil Murphy announced plans to nominate Pierre-Louis to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

If approved, she would serve as the first Black female justice in the state’s 244-year history.

Pierre-Louis, 39, of Mount Laurel, Burlington County, has had a fast-paced legal career. She has a reputation as a groundbreaking lawyer and a former federal prosecutor who broke the color barrier to lead offices in Camden and Trenton.

New Jersey and Pennsylvania are among 23 states that have all-white state Supreme Court benches. Delaware’s first black Supreme Court jurist was seated in January.

Pierre-Louis embraces the history-making significance of her selection and wants to be a role model for minority children. She would be the third Black judge on the court, and the youngest.

“It’s important for young people and future generations to see people who look like them,” Pierre-Louis said in an interview. “For me, I just hope that this nomination is an inspiration to others.”

Her selection comes amid protests nationwide against systemic racism and calls for diversity.

Murphy has said that the selection process began months before the protests but that there was no “better meeting of an individual and the times.”

The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Pierre-Louis credits her humble roots for her success and work ethic. The family of seven lived in a cramped, two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, New York, when she was a child. Her grandmother lived with them and prepared Haitian meals daily.

Her father, Joseph, a taxi driver who owned his cab, worked extra hours to pay tuition for the children to attend parochial school. Her mother, Claire, worked as a hospital patient transport aide. They stressed the importance of education, and all their children earned advanced degrees.

“I know how hard my parents worked,” Pierre-Louis said. “They made sacrifices in the hopes of forging a path for our futures.”

The family later moved to Irvington, Essex County, where several family members lived amid a large Haitian population. Creole was her first language, which she is teaching to her sons, Robbie and Marc.

Pierre-Louis earned a bachelor’s degree at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. She wasn’t sure about a legal career until she participated in a pre-law fellowship and then “was completely sold.”

She graduated with high honors from Rutgers-Camden Law School, where she was known as a bright student who was passionate about the law, said her classmate and longtime friend Lloyd A. Freeman. He recruited her to serve as vice president of the Black Law Students Association, where he was president.

“I knew that she was brilliant. I wanted to work with her badly,” said Freeman, a partner at Archer & Greiner in Haddonfield, Camden County

If confirmed, Pierre-Louis would take a seat once held by her mentor, former Justice John E. Wallace Jr., who became embroiled in controversy when then-Gov. Chris Christie refused to renominate him for a tenured term in 2010. She clerked for Wallace in 2006 when he was the high court’s sole black jurist.

Wallace recalled his former clerk as a brilliant young attorney. The two maintain a close friendship, and he joined her family at the announcement of her nomination.

“You knew that she would go far,” Wallace said.

Pierre-Louis began her career in 2007 as an associate at the Cherry Hill law firm Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads. She returned as a partner in 2019, handling white-collar crime, commercial litigation, and government investigations.

She previously spent nine years as an assistant U.S. attorney in New Jersey, working and overseeing cases including those involving public corruption, drug and fraud crimes.

“She will be a fantastic judge,” said Stanley King, a Woodbury civil rights attorney.

If confirmed, Pierre-Louis could help shape the court for 30 years. She would replace Associate Justice Walter Timpone, who will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 in November.

A number of senators have publicly expressed support for Pierre-Louis. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D., Gloucester, has not set a date for a confirmation hearing.

“I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams that this could have happened,” she said. “I am certainly blessed.”


N.J. among states to be hit hardest by future flooding, with thousands more properties at risk than expected, group warns

The mid-Atlantic region is expected to see the most dramatic increase in the country in flooding over the next 30 years, driven by an increasing northern reach of hurricanes due to rising temperatures in the atmosphere and oceans, a nonprofit research group says.

And, for New Jersey, that includes tens of thousands more properties affected than federal numbers would suggest.

In fact, Virginia, Delaware and N.J. are ranked highest for the biggest impact among the 48 contiguous U.S. states. The risk for Philadelphia and other Pennsylvania municipalities also rises substantially.

The First Street Foundation’s first annual National Flood Risk Assessment, released Monday, was compiled by scientists who say they developed a “high precision, climate adjusted” online Flood Factor tool for property owners. The tool ranks properties on a score of 1 to 10, based on a risk of flooding over 30 years.

The tool allows people to assess the risk for 142 million properties in the U.S.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency classifies 8.7 million properties as having substantial risk within Special Flood Hazard Areas based on past and present flood risk. But First Street Foundation’s modeling identified 14.6 million properties with that risk, or nearly 6 million more.

The top five states currently showing the greatest proportion of properties with substantial flood risk — meaning a bigger percent of a community is exposed to risk — include West Virginia, Louisiana, Florida, Idaho and Montana. The authors found that flood risk is changing for not only coastal states, but inland states too because of shifting patterns of precipitation.

By 2050, the number of properties facing substantial risk in the U.S. will increase by 10.9% to 16.2 million due to climate change and sea-level rise, the researchers found.

“Sea-level rise is exposing an increasing number of coastal properties to flooding from extreme high tides and storms,” said Robert Kopp, director of the Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. Rutgers led the development of the sea-level rise projections used in the analysis.

Coastal states also face increased risk from sea-level rise and surge due to tropical storms and hurricanes. The modeling shows New Jersey with 73,600 more properties at substantial risk in 2050 than are included in current FEMA flood risk assessment maps.

The Jersey Shore in particular is threatened by major recurrent flooding, high tide flooding, and storms. New Jersey is also affected by sea level rise exacerbated by gradually sinking land.

In total, First Street’s Flood Model suggests there are 617,300 properties in New Jersey at risk over the next 30 years. Of those, 150,700 are categorized as facing almost certain risk, with a 99% chance of flooding at least once over the next 30 years.

The report says Ocean City has the greatest number of properties at risk of flooding.

First Street has singled out Ocean City in the past as a prime flood risk, something city officials have taken issue with.

Last year, First Street released a report stating Ocean City faced the highest projected property loss in the state. At the time, Mayor Jay Gillian said the 2019 report contained “misleading information” about the city’s property values and tidal flooding. He also said the group’s estimation of theoretical losses in real estate values were “implausible.”

Gillian could be reached immediately for comment Monday.

However, smaller municipalities, such as Wildwood, may have a greater proportion of property where researchers say 98% of properties are at risk.

The report says 588,700 property owners in New Jersey have made flood damage claims through FEMA since the year 2000. The greatest number of claims, which would include Hurricane Sandy in 2012, have been concentrated in Ocean, Monmouth, Middlesex, Union, and Essex counties.

In Pennsylvania, the report says Philadelphia has the greatest number of properties at risk of flooding with 53,400 currently at risk, or 10% of its total number of properties. But, smaller municipalities might have a greater proportion of total properties at risk. For example, Folcroft in Delaware County, bordered by Darby Creek, will experience a 56% increase in the number of properties at risk over the next 30 years, the report states.

The modeling was conducted by researchers and hydrologists from First Street Foundation, which include scientists from Columbia, George Mason, MIT, Rutgers, Berkeley, and Bristol in England.